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Six Feet Under: Pilot

Ruth: "There's been an accident. The new hearse is totaled. Your father is dead. Your father is dead and my pot roast is ruined."

A death in the family. A family that makes their living dealing with death.

The strange and wonderful Fishers are in the funeral business, and have an entirely different perspective on the loss of a family member. (I mean, really. Would you think of taking your father's body home with you from the morgue?) As each member of the Fisher family dealt with the sudden loss of Nathaniel, husband and father, there were several character-defining moments:

— Ruth lost control in a big way not once, but several times. The scene where she shrieked out loud and destroyed the kitchen was very powerful, and very real. I think we all feel like doing something like that, but few people allow those feelings to surface in the uninhibited way that she did.

— Nate runs, and eats health food. But he doesn't floss. And he had sex with a total stranger in a closet at the airport, not the healthiest thing to do.

— While at work, David lost control and screamed... but only in his own head. Later, he actually did scream, but only a little. Gay and still in the closet, David was buttoned up and controlled, but not as controlled as he wanted to be.

— Claire was stoned when she heard of her father's death and had to deal with all of the accompanying trauma with everything "burning more brightly." But life seems to be like that for Claire; everything burns a bit more brightly for her. I thought it was interesting that she acted like she hated the family business, but what was she driving? An old lime green hearse with a skull as a hood ornament. Uh huh.

— Brenda had sex with Nate right after meeting him, and wasn't going to tell him her name. And she lied to Ruth, with incredible ease, about how she met Nate. Brenda was amazingly blunt and honest, and deceptive at the same time. She was even blunt and honest about being deceptive.

David and Ruth are the practical ones, the control freaks. Nate and Claire are more emotional, more casual, preferring not to plan ahead or deal with things. (Which was also reflected in their wardrobes and hairstyles.) At their father's funeral, David wanted dignity and dirt dispensers, while Nate wanted wild, genuine, uncontrolled grief. Even though she's more like David in character, Ruth treated Nate like her favorite child and did what he wanted; she practically wailed and rent her garments.

Since I've seen the entire series and there were plenty of clues in the pilot, I'm going to make a sweeping statement. Although all of the characters in the series were developed equally and there were plenty of other strong storylines, the major theme that tied this series together was Nate's relationship with death.

The series began with the death of Nate's father. When we lose a parent (I've lost both), no matter how old we are when it happens, we become orphans. We're next in line. No one is standing between us and death any more. Nate dreamed about the bus that killed his father several times. In one of those dreams, Nate deliberately walked in front of the bus, and it ran him down. In the final scene, Nate saw his father leaving on the bus. Nate looked at the strangers passing by, and the message was clear. The bus is coming for Nate. It's coming for all of us.


— The ghost of Nathaniel interacted with nearly everyone. The ghosts in this series aren't really ghosts; they're a plot device used to tell us what the characters are really thinking.

— Setting the series in Los Angeles, where image trumps reality, was very clever. It was Christmas eve. The sun was shining, the weather was perfect. Everything looked great on the surface. And then we descended into the Fishers' basement, where the truth was.

— Nathaniel ignored what Ruth said about high blood pressure and cancer and was reaching for a cigarette when he was hit by the bus. I mean, that's about as ironic as it gets. (It was funny, too.)

— Ruth cut herself just as Nathaniel was dying.

— In the basement scene where Nathaniel told little Nate and little David that the naked Mr. Bloomberg was dead and couldn't feel anything, David was carrying a naked, male doll.

— The first thing that the minister said at the graveside service was, "In the midst of life, we are in death." This was obviously the mission statement of this show. And it's true. Death is all around us, every day. While I was writing the draft of this review, I learned that my uncle had just died. I'm not kidding.

— Those dirt dispensers that looked like great big salt shakers... do people really use them? I've been to my share of funerals, but I've never seen them before. They were the perfect symbol of how we sanitize death and keep it at a distance. Let's not get our hands dirty, folks. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, but hey, no touching, don't feel anything. By tossing away the dirt shakers, Nate tossed away pretense.

And pieces:

— The opening credits are very compelling, visually stunning and a little shocking.

— I knew I was going to love this series the moment I saw Nathaniel sitting on top of the limo in the Hawaiian shirt and mai tai, smoking a cigarette and watching his own funeral.

— The cast is full of exceptional actors and they were all wonderful in this episode, but I think Frances Conroy (Ruth) was particularly amazing in this one. Outstanding performance.

— The funeral-related commercials were jarring and interesting, but they didn't really work for me. I'm glad they didn't keep doing them.

— Even though they barely knew each other, Claire related most strongly to Nate. She wanted to be cool, like he was. She wanted to escape, like he did. Except he didn't, did he? He was back at home again.

— During the first viewing (not Nathaniel's), David had an encounter with a woman who appeared to be a funeral groupie.

— Keith Charles showed up uninvited at the funeral in order to support David. Claire was the only one of the family who realized that Keith was David's boyfriend. She looked surprised, and possibly pleased.

— The actors who play the Fishers resemble each other physically. Nate and Claire look like siblings, and Ruth and Claire in particular look like mother and daughter. David looks a good bit like his father, Nathaniel.

— We learned that Brenda's parents were both shrinks. We saw her manic-depressive brother for about five seconds, sobbing and looking in the fridge for olives. Note how she offered him one olive, and he grabbed the entire container out of her hand. Very good glimpse into the character of Billy Chenowith, whom we get to know very well later on in the series.

— A salesman from Kroehner tried to buy David out right after the funeral. What outrageously bad taste, so bad it was funny.

— Federico the restorative artist showed such joy in his work. Before and after photos? "Seriously closed casket shit"? Disturbing and adorable at the same time.

— According to the commentaries on the DVD, the bodies were sometimes very skillful fakes, and sometimes they were the actors themselves. Depended on the circumstances.


Mourner: "She looks so peaceful."
David: "Well, she is at peace now."
Mourner: "If there's any justice in the universe, she's shoveling shit in Hell."

Brenda: "Are you familiar with the psychological term 'projection'?"
Nate: "Are you familiar with the psychological term 'blow me'?"

David: "Other kids my age were going to frat parties. I was draining corpses and refashioning severed ears out of wax."

David: "She's fine."
Ruth: "I'm not fine. I'm a whore! I was unfaithful to your father for years! And now he knows! He knows!"
Nate: "Uh..."

David (ranting): "She met him at church!"
Keith: "You met me at church."

Brenda: "Well, after four days with my family, I'm ready for shock therapy. I'm just waiting to see if my HMO covers it. How's it going with you?"
Nate: "It's great, great. My father's dead, my mom's a whore, my brother wants to kill me, and my sister's smoking crack. I think I win."

This pilot did it for me. I was immediately hooked. Four out of four stars,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. "This pilot did it for me. I was immediately hooked."

    The same for me. This show has such a wonderful feel to it. The subject matter is very serious and could easily become depressing. But they combine it with a lot of comedy, which works really well together. It's like Buffy in that sense. I'm only a few episodes in, but this looks like a winner to me!

    It's so strange to see a cold blooded serial killer turn into a gay puppy dog... very disturbing. ;)

  2. I'm so glad you're trying Six Feet Under, Remco. And as I understand it, the powers that be had difficulty signing off on casting Michael C. Hall as Dexter because he was so convincing as a gay mortician. :) I think Hall is just one of those consummate actors who can do anything.

  3. SOB ! Seeing that you've reviewed the ENTIRE series is just....giving me the envy to rewatch this gem.

    That one was (another) great one.


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